Make Spoons Not War!
Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
88Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
When we finally arrived in Phonsavan before the driver had even turned off the engine the mini bus was surrounded at every exit by men with clipboards trying to take you to a hotel so that they could get a commission, having already booked our hotel we just waved them off but they were pretty insistent and one told us that he would take us to our hotel for free, what the hell let’s do it.
It turns out the free ride meant we had to listen to the guy try to sell us a tour to the Plain of Jars and given that that is exactly what we were looking for, we weighed up the options and decided that whilst we might be able to save a couple of pound by trawling the street for a travel agent we may as well just go with it.
We went out to explore and discovered that Phonsavan is pretty much a one road town, with not much on it. A few restaurants, bars and hotels and a local market were pretty much all there was to see. The local market was as rustic and old school as a market gets, with chickens and pigs for sale alongside the fresh fruit, vegetables and pots of strange chilli and fish concoctions.
We did also visit the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) who are a non-profit organisation who aim to save lives and build futures by working with others to, Reclaim land contaminated with the remnants of conflict, Find ways to reduce the daily risk of death or injury for civilians and Create safe and secure conditions for development, free from armed violence. Laos was bombed for a total of 9 years in the North and South. During those nine years a bomb was dropped every 8 minutes 24 hours a day. Around 30% of the ordinances did not explode and remain active hidden in the land today. MAG really do change the lives of the locals by clearing their land and giving them the ability to earn a living without the fear of UXO’s. Thankfully MAG have begun work to clear the Plain of Jars sites so that we are able to visit this amazing wonder, at the moment there are just 3 sites that have been cleared but there are another 87 sites in the area.
So the next morning we awaited our minibus for our tour and it seems that we actually did pretty well by booking with our little man and we had a totally private tour, just us and our driver. Our first stop was the tourist information office where I assume our driver had to go to register us(presumably because of the possibility of being blown up by a UXO)?! We had fun taking photos of all the random bombs and UXO’s around the office.
On the road again, well strictly speaking a mud road we set off towards the Plain of Jars site, we did them in reverse as site 3 is furthest away and worked our way back to the site one which is closer to Phonsavan. When we arrived at Site 3 our driver pointed us over a strange looking bridge which looked like it went nowhere… we set off and found ourselves in the middle of a dried up rice paddy with some concrete square markers on either side, we soon worked out that these were the markers placed by MAG
The area around Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars was so heavily bombed they locals make as much use of the bomb remnants as they can, we particularly liked the Bomb House where the stilts of the house where bombs cut in half.
Another enterprise is to melt down the bomb remnants and to make spoons and bracelets
The Russian Tank was a little bit of a disappointment mainly because there is not really much left of it other than its main body. The sheer size of it was fascinating and I am sure it was once a monster of a machine, but it looked a little sad just perched on a random hillside with its lid 30 feet further down the hill.
It has been at least 3 days since we were subjected to Lao Lao, so where else to go than a Whiskey Village! This was actually just a ladies house rather than a whiskey village, although I suspect that all the neighbours have Lao Lao breweries in their garden sheds. We were shown the fermenting rice, the home made still, and the terrifying huge jars of Lao Lao just waiting to burn the throats of unsuspecting Farangs. Enter unsuspecting Farangs! As much as we tried to tell our driver we had already tried it there was no getting out of having a shot of the burning hot delight, in fact I took one for the team and Tim got out scott free.
Next we went to the second site which is split into two areas, again lined with MAG markers for our peace of mind or to instil utter fear when you lost sight of them! The bonus of taking a private tour and being in Laos at the end of the season meant that we pretty much had the Jar sites to ourselves, giving us ample time to look around at our own pace and play camera club
At the final site number 1, there are the most amount of pots but as you can see the city it is not as remote as the other sites, but there are so many bomb craters it is terrifying. There was also a huge cave we went and had a look inside and it seemed to be treated like a temple with lots and lots of cigarette offerings to the gods, the cave was stunning with two big holes in the ceiling which we figured were maybe bomb holes which had blown out the cave. Having looked it up when we got back to our hotel it seems that the holes in the roof were man made and the cave was used as a crematorium! Hmm!
One of the best things about Phonsavan was that as it 1100 meters above sea level which meant that being up in the mountains the temperatures were considerably lower than elsewhere in Laos. For the first time in months we actually stopped sweating and slept without air-conditioning on and felt a bit chilly which is odd as it was still 18 degrees and back in jersey I would have considered that a hot summers day and been sunbathing!
We were heading south from Phonsavan, but sadly there is no direct road and no public bus which goes that way so we had to go back to Vientiane to start our onward travels. Rather than subjecting ourselves to a 15 hour bus back through Laos we treated ourselves to a flight. The airport left quite a lot to be desired. There were chickens wondering around the entrance and the man who checked us in actually prepared our tickets using a typewriter from circa 1965. Thankfully the plane was significantly more impressive than the airport and 30 minutes later we were back in the rock and roll world of Vientiane.